DEMOREST — Piedmont College President Emeritus W. Ray Cleere will be remembered in a memorial service at 1 p.m. Feb. 17 at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Atlanta.
Cleere, 81, of Atlanta died Jan. 26 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Current Piedmont College President James Mellichamp, who worked with Cleere during his time at the Demorest college, recalls Cleere’s passion for the institution and for taking it to new heights.
“He is one of the most visionary individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and to work with,” Mellichamp says. “He certainly ranks up there with, I think, two or three of the most important presidents that the college has had in its 120-year history. He transformed the institution really from the inside out, and there’s nobody that sees the institution today that knew what it was in 1996 that would really believe all that was possible, but he did it.”
Born in Atlanta, Cleere loved the city and often told stories about his grandmother’s boardinghouse on Kennesaw Avenue and his first job as a teen was as a bread truck driver, delivering to The Varsity.
After graduating from Bass High School, he went on to earn degrees from Appalachian State University, University of Mississippi, and University of Georgia.
In 1962, Cleere joined the Georgia Department of Education, having previously been a teacher and counselor in the Atlanta Public Schools system.
In 1967, he became head of the first counselor education program at West Georgia State University. Beginning in 1970 at Valdosta State University, he was dean of the school of education, followed by vice president and dean of faculties.
In 1982, Cleere became vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Georgia.
In 1987, he was appointed as the first commissioner of higher education for the State of Mississippi and oversaw the first public higher education desegregation case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1995, Cleere returned to Georgia to become president of Piedmont College. During his tenure, he developed academic programs, but students also took note when he and College Chaplain Ashley Cook walked their dogs, Emma and Rosie, on campus. This “courtship” led to their marriage in 2006.
Upon retirement in 2011, he taught graduate courses for Piedmont and served as a trustee of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.
Throughout his career, Cleere was known for encouraging individual students and colleagues to make the most of their potential.
First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, is located at 105 Courtland St., NE, Atlanta. A reception will follow the memorial service.
Memorial contributions may be made to Piedmont College, P.O. Box 429, Demorest, GA 30535.
An online condolence book is available at www.asturner.com.